“We can’t predict weather 10 days out – how can we predict global climate change?” John Stossel asked a tie-dye clad student inquisitor.
Though Stossel’s self-proclaimed libertarian views were unique in comparison to most university speakers, his audience, which filled half of Campbell Hall last night, attentively listened – for the most part – to his position on capitalism and the positive nature of a free market. With only a few interjections from skeptical audience members, the ABC News 20/20 co-anchor gave examples of why the government should turn to a more laissez-faire approach, an opinion he said came from many years of working in journalism.
“Regulation protects us from ourselves – but is this the right thing to do in a free society? Where does it end?” Stossel said. “Maybe we should have exercise police coming into our homes and telling us to do pushups.”
The College Republicans sponsored the event, with the help of funding from Associated Students Finance Board. Stossel has won 19 Emmys for his work, but stopped receiving them, he said, after his peers categorized his views as “conservative.” He has also received five nominations from the National Press Club for excellence in consumer reporting.
Once he started at “Good Morning America,” Stossel said he began to realize that business scams like those at Enron and WorldCom – which give rise to any variety of government regulation – are rare on the national scale. It was at this point that his views began to diverge from those of his colleagues and he questioned what life would be like if government did not intervene.
Stossel segued his discussion to the Food and Drug Administration, saying its opinions should be a choice, not a regulation. He said though the FDA’s mission is good, a drug’s approval process may take 12 to 15 years, leaving people who need immediate assistance to die.
“People should be able to choose what to take – it’s your body,” Stossel said. “The FDA should be voluntary so we can learn from ourselves.”
Society’s aversion to freedom, Stossel said, is a result of many years of government regulation starting with President Lyndon Johnson’s “Great Society” programs. However, in years prior, products considered more dangerous than currently regulated items thrived sans regulation, such as in the case of automobiles and swimming pools. Due to the large number of car-related accidents, he said today’s government would have surely regulated this important invention.
“Products we now fear have actually saved lives by making America richer,” Stossel said.
The media is another major player in the regulation game, Stossel said. He presented in chart form the different causes of death the public fears, compared with their relative risk in terms of how many days they take off of an average person’s life.
“Media makes it worse because we don’t know whose picture to take,” Stossel said.
Fires take 18 days off one’s life, driving-related accidents take off half a year and smoking takes off almost 2,000 days, the chart showed. The audience took a collective exhale of awe when Stossel revealed the final part of the chart, displaying poverty as the leading cause of death, shaving between seven and 10 years off a person’s life.
This loss of life is attributed to the fact that the poor cannot afford the resources that keep the more fortunate healthier and safer, such as good quality tires and fresh food. “Wealth is health,” as Stossel put it.
In the question-and-answer session following the speech, an audience member asked for Stossel’s opinion on the concern over global warming. Stossel returned with a characteristically skeptical question about the validity of global warming and whether it could actually be catastrophic.
“You want to believe it’s a catastrophe because it excites you,” Stossel said. “I’ve watched scares come and go; [there was a time when] scientists were all in agreement that there’d be a global cooling.”
Paola Bassignana, a first-year global studies major, said she was satisfied with Stossel’s speech, but disenchanted with the student who interrupted his talk at various intervals throughout the night.
“Students need to understand that you can have a dissenting opinion, but there’s no need to be rude and interrupt a speaker, especially one with such distinction,” Bassignana said.
Stossel, who has spoken to a number of audiences, said the crowd at UCSB was a change from most others.
“This younger audience was much more skeptical,” Stossel said.
Jerad Ferguson, a third-year political science and history major, as well as chairman of the College Republicans at UCSB, was satisfied with the turnout.
“It was pretty good and he gave a good lecture,” Ferguson said. “I’m just glad we get the free market perspective.”
– Lindsey Miller contributed to this article.